No Fan of Sports, a Graphic Novelist Learns to Follow the Bouncing Ball – The New York Times

No Fan of Sports, a Graphic Novelist Learns to Follow the Bouncing Ball – The New York Times

Like “American Born Chinese” — his groundbreaking 2006 Y.A. debut, and the first graphic novel to be a finalist for the National Book Award — Gene Luen Yang’s DRAGON HOOPS (First Second, 446 pp., $24.99; ages 14 to 18) weaves multiple story lines of American identity and anxiety into a comics format.

Engaging, entertaining and full of insight about race and ethnicity, “Dragon Hoops” follows the real-life Bishop O’Dowd Dragons, an Oakland high school basketball team, in its quest to win the California state championship.

On one level, Yang’s latest graphic novel is like a fast-paced documentary, intercutting the Dragons’ thrilling wins and crushing losses with basketball’s own turbulent history, from the invention of the game in 1891 by James Naismith, to the 1948 face-off between the Harlem Globetrotters and the all-white Minneapolis Lakers, to the often controversial, politically charged careers of today’s N.B.A. stars.

On another level, it’s autobiography. Yang was a computer science teacher at Bishop O’Dowd High School for nearly two decades. And it was a 2014 conversation he had with the Dragons’ head coach, Lou Richie — himself a player on the team 25 years earlier — that sparked the idea for the book. Richie, with only seconds remaining in the 1988 championship game, made a shot everyone thought had given the school the state championship, only to have a referee overturn the basket. That reversal of fortune transformed a mild-mannered backup point guard into a high-school-hoops version of Captain Ahab, eternally obsessed with capturing his own elusive white whale.

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